Why most Americans don't want to live in a 'smart city'
Smart tech is transforming the way local government delivers services, though concerns about cyberattacks and personal data collection may keep the public from getting on board.
Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Maria Buczkowski, a public affairs consultant with Vrge Strategies where she focuses on urban tech policy issues.
Futurists, visionaries and tech companies for years have painted a captivating picture of smart cities — communities that leverage technology to make citizen’s lives easier and totally connected.
Take Baltimore for example. The city has partnered with Ecube Labs to deploy trash bins that notify garbage trucks when full, making collection routes more efficient and cost-effective.
In Boston, the city installed solar-powered park benches that function as outdoor cell phone charging stations and at the same time, collect data on air quality and noise pollution.
And most recently, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called upon the Boring Company to build a private high-speed tunnel to transport passengers in autonomous electric vehicles from downtown to the airport in just 12 minutes.
These smart technologies are transforming the way local government delivers services and, likewise, how citizens interact with the world around them.
But the question is, do Americans really want to live like this? According to a recent survey, the answer may very well be no — 66% of Americans would not want to live in a smart city.
Americans like their communities. Tech was once viewed as a knight in shining armor, but due to recent data privacy and protection concerns, the relationship has changed. When it comes to smart cities, Americans are risk adverse and don’t want to allow these same tech companies to have a stake in their local communities. As companies scramble to take advantage of this $81 billion global industry, concerns are growing over how much power they will have at the local level.
Americans are worried about cyberattacks. The WannaCry attack affected over 150 countries and 100,000 organizations. The Equifax breach resulted in millions of Americans’ personal information compromised. And most recently, the City of Atlanta’s ransomware attack locked city employees out of their computers for weeks. Increased frequency of large scale breaches at the local, national and global level makes Americans more fearful that they will be next.
Americans are deeply concerned about the mass collection of personal data. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are still under investigations following an alleged data breach, and companies are now under a microscope when it comes to data use. The attention toward consumer protection and privacy is growing, and the reality is every company will be held accountable for how transparent they are.
This shift in public opinion poses a serious challenge. So, what should urban planners, tech and government officials do to make the case for smart cities?
- Educate people on what a smart city is. The term "smart cities" is marketing jargon. In order to support and embrace them, city dwellers need to understand the promise of incorporating technology into cities, such as saving time, money and providing a variety of options. The public and private sector should educate Americans about how communities will benefit from a connected way of living.
- Develop a robust cyber strategy. It’s forecasted that by 2020 there will be almost 31 billion connected devices, and even more threat vectors. Cities, counties and communities must invest in the means necessary to protect critical infrastructure by hiring more city employees focused on IT and cyber defense and developing communications protocol in the event of a cyberattack.
- Be transparent with data collection. The recent concerns around data protection makes consumers increasingly wary of sharing their personal information without knowing who may or may not have access to it. The Facebook/Google model of monetizing data at any cost no longer works. The public and private sectors need to work together to find a solution that restores Americans’ trust.
Smart cities hold incredible promise for communities across the country. For that promise to be realized, those who support the smart city vision have to educate lawmakers and citizens alike as to why its beneficial and how their data will remain secure. If this happens, sentiment towards smart cities will turn around, and the vision of truly connected communities can be achieved.